Provisional Legislative Council

PLC Paper No. CB(2) 894
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref. : CB2/PS/1/97

Provisional Legislative Council
Panel on Security

Subcommittee on Overcrowdedness in Penal Institutions

Minutes of the Meeting
held on Thursday, 11 December 1997 at 10:45 am
in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon Mrs Selina CHOW, JP (Chairman)
Hon Mrs Elsie TU, GBM
Hon Henry WU

Members absent :

Hon CHAN Choi-hi ]
Hon CHENG Kai-nam ] other commitments
Hon Bruce LIU Sing-lee ]
Hon LAU Kong-wah ]

Public officers attending :

Mr Alex FONG, JP
Deputy Secretary for Security

Mr Kelvin PANG
Acting Deputy Commissioner of Correctional Services

Mr Gilbert KO

Assistant Secretary for Security

Mr CHAN Wing-cheung, Stephen

Senior Statistician
Correctional Services Department

Clerk in attendance :

Mrs Sharon TONG
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 1

Staff in attendance :

Mr Paul WOO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)5

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting

(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 728)

1.The minutes of the meeting held on 6 November 1997 were confirmed.

II. Discussion with the Administration

Measures to relieve prison overcrowding : next steps

(PLC Paper No. CB(2) 733(01) - information paper tabled at the meeting)

Deputy Secretary for Security (DS(S)) advised that redevelopment works in the Stanley Prison area were progressing on schedule. The redevelopment would provide 200 prison places by the end of 1997 and 575 places by 1999. In addition, a proposal to redevelop Tai Lam Correctional Institution to provide 260 prison places by 2001 was being processed in the Public Works Programme.

2.As regards the proposed new prison complex at Yam O, DS(S) informed members that the Islands District Board and Tsuen Wan District Board had been consulted in April and May 1997 respectively. However, the proposal had met with opposition by the Environmental Affairs Committee (EAC) of the Tsuen Wan Provisional District Board when EAC was subsequently consulted on the issue. The Government was now conducting consultation with the local residents with a view to getting their agreement as well as the approval of the Town Planning Board to enable the site to be used for penal purposes.

3.The Chairman said that the Subcommittee was strongly in support of the project and urged the Government to try its best to overcome any difficulties so that the project could be implemented as soon as possible.

New measures under consideration

4.DS(S) said that a serious pressure point of prison overcrowding was the female prisons. To provide relief, proposals had been made to redesignate a section of Chi Ma Wan Drug Addiction Treatment Centre as well as Ma Hang Prison as female prisons to make available additional places for female prisoners. The first proposal did not involve funding requirements and could be implemented in the short term. The second proposal, on the other hand, was targeted for 2003 for implementation, pending the outcome of the commissioning of the new prison facilities at Yam O. Acting Deputy Commissioner of Correctional Services (DC/CS(Atg)) added that the Chi Ma Wan Drug Addiction Treatment Centre was yet to be classified as prison. The proposal in hand would result in the provision of about 70 new places for female prisoners.

5.In response to a member's question, DC/CS(Atg) advised that existing female penal institutions included the Tai Lam Centre for Women, Tai Tam Gap Correctional Institution, Chi Ma Wan Correctional Institution and Chi Ma Wan Drug Addiction Treatment Centre. Part of the Victoria Prison was a transit centre for both male and female illegal immigrants pending repatriation.

6.DS(S) further advised that another measure under consideration was the proposed building of an annex on a site (currently used as a temporary bus depot) adjacent to the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre (LCKRC). This proposal, if materialized, would increase the capacity of LCKRC by 400 new places. The main difficulty with this proposal was the requirement to find a suitable site for relocation of the existing bus-depot. DS(S) said that the Sham Shui Po Provisional District Board would be consulted, pending a concrete plan for the relocation of the bus-depot. He added that approval by the Town Planning Board was not required for this expansion project, as the location in question was originally zoned as a GIC (Government/Institution/Community) site.

7.The Chairman proposed that the name "Lai Chi Kok" should better be avoided in naming the annex of LCKRC in order to minimize resentment from residents in the district. DC/CS(Atg) responded that the proposal was intended to expand the LCKRC rather than to construct a new centre. Whether it was necessary to rename the proposed extention of LCKRC would need to be further considered. The Administration noted the Chairman's suggestion.

8.Referring to the proposal to set up an Immigration Centre within the Immigration Service Training School site in Tuen Mun, the Chairman enquired whether the project could be expedited to enable the Centre to become operational before 2003. DS(S) replied that the proposed plan involved demolition of the existing temporary building and construction of a new centre at the same location. The Tuen Mun EAC would be consulted on the project shortly. Besides, funding approval within the Government would have to be sought for this project. DS(S) anticipated that it could be quite time-consuming for these consultation and funding processes to be completed.

Revised projected shortfall after taking into account supply of prison places from projects in the pipeline

9.DS(S) advised that subject to the preceding new measures, the Administration expected that there would be a shortfall of 1700 prison places in 2003, as against the previous forecast of 3 000. The new projection took into account a revised demand for penal places based on correlation with projected arrest and prosecution figures as predicted by the Police Force and the Immigration Department. DS(S) said that the revised projection model should come up with more reliable estimates. To enhance accuracy, the forecast shortfall would be adjusted on an annual basis.

10.DC/CS(Atg) further pointed out that the overall crime rate in 1996 had dropped, resulting in a reduction in the number of offenders sentenced to imprisonment in 1997. According to the Police, the crime rate might start to pick up again in 1998.

An additional prison complex

11.DS(S) informed members that the Government was planning to build an additional medium/minimum security prison complex to cope with the expected shortfall of 1 700 prison places in 2003. A suitable site for the new prison complex was being identified. DC/CS(Atg) said that the present trend indicated a greater demand for places in medium/minimum security prisons. The planned prison complex should be able to provide relief to maximum security prison places that were currently taken up by prisoners requiring medium security accommodation. He added that at present the number of inmates in penal institutions totalled about 11 300, of which 638 were Category "A" prisoners and 2 425 were Category "B" prisoners who were being kept in maximum security prisons. The number of Category "C" and Category "D" prisoners were 6 659 and 1 485 respectively. The rest were yet to be classified. Overcrowding was largely caused by the large number of Category "C" prisoners. In terms of level of security, Mainland illegal immigrants sentenced to imprisonment for working illegally in Hong Kong were normally classified as Category "C" prisoners.

12.The Chairman enquired whether the High Island Detention Centre, which was a closed Centre for Vietnamese migrants (VMs)/Vietnamese illegal immigrants (VIIs) currently with less than 1 000 VMs/VIIs, could be converted into a prison. DS(S) replied that the purpose and hence the requirements of a VMs/VIIs Centre were different from that of a prison. Yet, the Government was open-minded in considering all possible options. The suggestion by the Chairman could be further examined.

13.At the request of members, the Administration undertook to submit a written report before the Security Panel meeting to be held in March 1998 to update the Panel on the progress achieved in addressing the problem of prison overcrowding. Adm

III. Internal discussion

Recommendations of the Subcommittee on relieving overcrowding in penal institutions

14.Members resolved that the following points should be incorporated in the Subcommittee's report :

  1. The two projects in the pipeline, i.e. the redevelopment of Tai Lam Correctional Institution and the new prison facilities at Yam O should be expedited. The Administration should make every effort to overcome any difficulties involved.

  2. On the proposed Yam O project, a marker should be put down for the future Legislative Council to lend its support to the funding request. To help balance any objection to the proposed Yam O Prison Complex by the local communities, the Security Panel could consider making a representation to the Town Planning Board. The Panel could take steps to solicit support from the Tsuen Wan Provisional District Board (TWPDB). The routine informal meeting between Members of the PLC and TWPDB members would be an ideal forum to discuss the subject. If this was not feasible in the near future, the Panel could write to TWPDB for a sympathetic consideration of the matter.

  3. The new measures under consideration to increase the supply of penal places as set out in PLC Paper no. CB(2) 733(01) should be speeded up. Regarding the proposed building of an annex of the LCKRC, the Administration should dispel any misunderstanding, in the course of the consultation exercise, that the expansion of the Centre would result in more remand prisoners to be accommodated.

  4. The longer-term solution to the problem of prison overcrowding lied in provision of new prison facilities. The Government's plan to build an additional medium/minimum security prison complex to cater for the shortfall of 1 700 penal places in 2003 should be implemented and a suitable site should be identified as early as possible. In this connection, subject to policy considerations pertaining to VMs/VIIs, the Government should be urged to actively examine the High Island Detention Centre as a possible option, given that the Centre fulfilled certain essential requirements in terms of size and security, and that it was less likely to arouse resistance from residents in the district.

Motion debate on issues relating to overcrowding in penal institutions

15.embers resolved that the Chairman should move a motion debate on the relevant issues relating to prison overcrowding. The scope of the motion debate should be wide enough to allow full deliberations on matters which, among other things, were in relation to the following :

  1. the need for accurate projections of shortfall of penal places, which had to be fine-tuned according to changing circumstances;

  2. the urgency for measures which had to be undertaken or expedited to increase penal capacity and reduce prison population, such as a review of the policy on imprisonment of illegal immigrant workers; and

  3. whether the Government should push for more non-custodial sentencing options to be applied to young and adult offenders.

IV. Close of meeting being no other business, the meeting ended at 12:20 pm.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
10 January 1998